Arrive Depart

Our Story: The dream of a dairy farmer

 

Life on the Farm

 

William McNamara, owner and founder of Bluestone was born in 1956 and raised on the family farm in Burton, Pembrokeshire. He spent his childhood on the banks of the Cleddau Estuary where they grew the famous Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes. William remembers vividly getting up early in the morning helping his father preparing the deliveries that headed across the country, including Smithfield Market in London.

William attributes his work ethic and stoic mindset to his farming days, as many a farmer will tell you, you can’t be afraid of hard work. Values learnt at a young age, but which stick with you and grow as you do. It also had it perks, with a vast outdoor playground in which you had to make your own fun. To indulge in creativity, innovation and imagination, for adventures to let your imagination run wild, resulting also in a love and respect for nature and Pembrokeshire.

Farming was always a passion growing up, and school days were often spent dreaming of the Summer holidays when every minute could be spent on the farm keeping busy, fixing, mending, and looking after the animals.

After school, William was keen to further his agricultural knowledge, and so set off to Cirencester to attend the Royal Agricultural University. There is a Welsh word, Hiraeth, which is translated as a longing for home or a special place, and soon enough Pembrokeshire called him home. He decided it was time to run his own farm, so he settled at Newton North Farm in Canaston Woods, around 5 miles from Narberth.

William lived at Newton where he raised his own family and created a dairy farm with 400 cows. In 1984, Milk quotas were introduced to the UK, meaning that there was a cap on the number of dairy products that a farm could produce and sell. This challenge sparked an idea, one definitely from outside the box, but one that would mean that the farm could keep supporting his family.

Cows moved from the south side of the farm to the north, and in their place, William envisioned a family attraction that became Oakwood Theme Park. Wales’ only theme park, Oakwood opened on 23 May 1987 as a very small family park with BMX bikes, a wooden fort, a 3D-style cinema experience, go-karts, and a bobsleigh ride.

Over the following years, Oakwood grew significantly and in 1996 Megaphobia was the first white-knuckle attraction to be installed. The 85-foot-tall (26 m) CCI-built wooden roller coaster was rated among the best in Europe by enthusiasts (and still is to this day). The new rollercoaster allowed the park to reach 500,000 visitors in one season for the first time and helped Oakwood to position itself as one of the top ten theme parks in the UK and the biggest tourist attraction in Wales.

On July 12th 1999, William was awarded an OBE for his services to the Tourism Industry. Here he is pictured at Buckingham Palace with his three children, James, Giles and Samantha.

Although a successful business, Oakwood was an outdoor attraction, reliant on the short summer season, visitors staying within the local area and the vagaries of the weather. William knew that a year-round holiday venue with undercover attractions and accommodation on site was what Pembrokeshire needed.

 A man with a plan  

William realised the missing link was a large-scale resort, an offering that would mean Pembrokeshire could welcome tourists all year round.

Again, he started with a completely blank piece of paper on his second journey into a completely unknown accommodation sector. It was a big risk to take, the idea of a resort would mean six times the investment that had started Oakwood, but he believed it was the right step to take, and so he started on the new adventure leaving Oakwood behind in 2001.

Fourteen years after he first sketched some ideas for a holiday resort, and a planning battle which would have deterred most, Bluestone National Park Resort opened on July 18th, 2008.

The resort opened with 160 lodges, built-in 5 different designs, and Pembrokeshire’s first Water Park, The Blue Lagoon was also created on the park, giving tourists and locals a sub-tropical paradise to enjoy all year round.

In September of the same year, the great recession put a strain on businesses across the world and Bluestone was no exception. Despite the trials and tribulations over the next few years, a strong team spirit prevailed and William’s vision of creating an iconic resort for Wales was established.

 

 

Another Adventure

Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 2012 William- who by this point in his life was also a trained pilot- set off on the adventure of a lifetime, facing 100mph storms, temperatures close to -50°C, and days on end with minimal communication and 10-mile-a-day treks. The challenge? As he put it, a “sponsored walk across the Antarctic” of which the last 62 miles were spent along and unsupported with 80kg of equipment. On January 17th  William arrived at the South Pole arriving 100 years to the day of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition.

 

The road ahead

Now the resort goes from strength to strength, employing 750 people, making it the second biggest employer in Pembrokeshire behind an international oil refinery giant. In 2019, the resort also checked in it's one-millionth guest to the resort, and occasion marked with cake as is the Bluestone style!

At Bluestone, the staff, also known as the Bluestone Family, come first in every decision. To solidify this commitment in 2017, Bluestone became the first UK leisure company to make its staff shareholders giving them 30% of the company something that had always been a goal of William’s was to share the success with those who helped create it.

Now his vision is for the future, with a belief that the Bluestone model is replicable across the UK, Europe, and beyond. The model of the business is one that thrives in areas of beauty and unlocks new potential for year-round visitors, with its all-weather facilities, whilst supporting the local economy and the surrounding community with exciting year-round employment.

His office, is in the rafters of the old grain store, overlooking the parlour where he once milked cows. But William is more often seen walking around the Park, chatting to guests and staff, or walking the miles of woodland trails visioning the next big idea. Enjoying his happy place with those who love it as much as he does.

 

 

Bluestone through the years

It would take us another 10 years to go through them all so here are a few of our highlights...

2008

January– Our website goes live.

February – We took our first telephone booking for a holiday! 

18th July - Opening Day arrives!

September - The Well Spa Retreat opens to guests offering luxurious treatments inspired by Pembrokeshire.

2009

The Nature Trail is opened up through to Camp Smokey opens.

Caldey Connect Lodges are introduced to the resort with an interconnecting door allowing privacy whilst holidaying together.

March– We became the first-holiday resort in Wales to gain 5* Visit Wales Grading!

2010

The Bluestone Foundation is founded helping community groups and charities across Pembrokeshire. 

January – Our founder William McNamara sets off to the Antarctic for his ‘sponsored walk' to the South Pole raising over £30,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust. 

March - The High Ropes course opens in the Steep Ravine.

May– Activities start on the lake! 

November– We journey to the Kingdom of the Elves for the first time!

 

2011

The Adventure Centre opens to Guests

August- We open another 60 lodges on the resort making up Knights Rest and Preseli View with it's stunning views over the resort and beyond. 

November – We are chosen to be part of the Woodland Trust’s celebration for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, with 35,000 native trees being planted in our Diamond Wood.

2012

Our Lowest Price Guarantee was introduced helping people to book with confidence. 

June – The Tournament Field is launched and the Play Park opens in the Village.

 

2013

June - We became the first tourism operator in the area to form a partnership with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority as part of its ParkWise scheme to educate staff on Pembrokeshire.

September- Founders, and Executives secured a Management Buy-Out of the Resort.


2014

The Sky Wires open over Camp Smokey.

Rock Climbing is introduced in the Adventure Centre.

January - The new Boardwalk to Camp Smokey opens helping with accessibility for all.

June- The Farmhouse Bar & Grill opens.

2015

There's a transformation in the village with both Ty Coffi and the Booking Office opening their doors! 

2016

July - Wiseman’s Way, Templars Court, and Castle Close are completed and our flagship St David’s lodge is launched.

December - 30% shareholding transferred to the Bluestone Employee Trust. 

2017

Ramsey, Skomer & Grassholm have a new 3 pm check-in.

New Play Park opens on the Village Green.

The Oak Tree Restaurant opens serving delicious Pizza and Pasta made from scratch on site.

January- Our very first Winter Lights Festival.

September- The start of our first Bwbach Festival!

October- A group of staff cycled from Vietnam to Cambodia for the Bluestone Foundation. 

2018

We welcomed our 1 millionth Bluestone guest! 

February- planning application approved.

March- The start of our first Myths and Legends Festival!

April- Ranger HQ is open for Free Range Fun!

May – We announce plans for our second resort, Bluestone Holy Island Resort Ynys Môn.

July 18th- We celebrate 10 years of Bluestone with plenty of cake!

September – A group of Bluestone employees completes the 186 Pembrokeshire in 12 days to raise £10,000 for the Bluestone Foundation

2019

February- Bluestone wins Tourism and Hospitality Business of the Year at the Swansea Bay Business awards

July- We open our magnificent Serendome!

2020

March – Our Adventure Centre becomes a Covid-19 recovery centre supporting our local health board in their amazing efforts.

July - Bluestone reopens its gates to guests once again

 

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